To the frontier of knowledge, on an inflatable

Had explorers of the past given up so easily, we would never have found the Isle of Wight
  • @domjoly

Our North American journey is ending with five days staying with friends in their cottage on the Canadian shores of the mighty Lake Huron. Unlike the Muskoka area, where the lakes are dotted with hundreds of wooded islands, Huron is like a giant, freshwater sea. Every morning I potter out on to their deck to see what the lake has decided to be that day. It can vary wildly from azure-blue, millpond still, to a violent brown mini-tsunami, with pretty much everything in between.

On a beautiful day, with visibility almost perfect, we organised a motley flotilla to head out in search of a rock that nearly breaks the surface about a kilometre offshore. Although the rock is named on marine charts, our host Richard was keen to pinpoint it on his iPhone map and claim it as his own.

Our main craft was a large inflatable hexagon that I'd been using in Muskoka to tow my extended Canadian family behind the speedboat at stupid speeds. We attached an inflated inner tube to the hexagon as a support vehicle and were approaching the water when the Canadian health and safety gene kicked in. Neighbours of our friends had spotted our preparations and felt compelled to intervene. One brought out a canoe with life-jackets while the other warned us about dangerous offshore winds. Being British, I pooh-poohed these unadventurous helpers and we were soon paddling unsteadily into the great wide open.

It soon became clear that the inflatable hexagon had not been designed for major expeditions and it started to deflate in protest. Undeterred we continued. After all, had explorers of the past given up so easily we would never have found the Isle of Wight.

The lake was so calm we could see the bottom about 30ft below, and we eventually found the rock. Excited we hopped off the hexagon and stood neck-high, far, far out in Lake Huron; it was an extraordinary sensation. But we were not there to have fun – this was a scientific expedition. We got the GPS co-ordinates, dropped a pin on the digital spot and had a short naming ceremony in which it was christened "Warburton Rock". We were all thrilled and stayed longer than was perhaps prudent. By the time we clambered back on to the hexagon, it had become limp and almost unnavigable. We began to drift towards the distant coast of Michigan about 40km away.

If my calculations were correct we would come ashore near Saginaw, the town Simon and Garfunkel hitchhiked all the way from in the song "America". Gun-toting locals would be suspicious, were we very lost Cubans? Al-Qa'ida Special Ops? I decided that, should we hit the States we would say we were members of a maritime Simon and Garfunkel fan club. Luckily the Canadian neighbours, who had been quietly monitoring our progress, leapt into action and rescued us from an uncertain fate. It was annoying. I don't think they realised that I had the situation completely under control….